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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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Tim Burstall

In their own words

Recorded 1973

Tim Burstall
Audio: 2 minutes

I’ve just been told the rather spooky news that someone [in a] hundred years will be listening to this, which is [a] deeply intimidating thought.

Outside, the sun’s shining. I can see a clothes hoist. In here, in my rather squalid little office, you can see a cross plot of ‘Alvin Purple’, three posters of the feature films I’ve made, a few photographs of stills from my productions and hanging along the back, like sort of barber’s certificates, you see the various prizes I have won and the hardware and whatnot that one accumulates through making films in Australia over ten years.

As a child, my mother who was very keen on, if you like, stimulating originality so-called in her children, went in for singing us to sleep with classical music playing, reading Dickens and Thackeray and Emily Bronte to us as we went to sleep, and encouraging us to write stories, paint pictures, you know, work with plasticine. We all had to play a musical instrument and all this sort of thing. Enormous stress was laid on doing things of your own, that is, in being original; I know when we were doing drawings I would always be asked had I made it up or had I copied it. If it came clean and pure out of one’s own little imagination it was rated much more highly and praised much more.

I suspect that probably was important as an element or as a motive when later on I came to making films. I certainly did think, contrary to popular belief, that, you know, one could make one’s own. I mean, when I began there wasn’t much of an industry here and the idea that one could make films of any sort was not a … didn’t have much currency. That certainly didn’t put me off very much, in fact I rather liked that situation probably, it gave one a sense of pioneering, I suppose, to some extent.

Acknowledgements

This oral history of Tim Burstall is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

Audio source

National Library of Australia, Hazel de Berg collection

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Tim Burstall

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency